Colleges turn to online, text messaging services to help with counseling demand

“Do parties or social situations ever make you uncomfortable?”

“How would you categorize your stress level?”

“How often would you say you feel overwhelming anger or irritability?”

These are some of the questions t…

“Do parties or social situations ever make you uncomfortable?”

“How would you categorize your stress level?”

“How often would you say you feel overwhelming anger or irritability?”

These are some of the questions that greet students at Colorado State University when they log in to the university’s new online well-being portal, YOU@CSU. Created through a partnership with Grit Digital Health and officially launched this semester, YOU@CSU acts as a virtual counselor, asking students questions about their mental and physical well-being and directing them to the appropriate campus resources.

The platform is one of several digital tools -- from online portals to text messaging services and smartphone apps -- that colleges are using to provide wider access to mental health services as campus health centers struggle to meet the rising counseling demands of students. Use of what’s called telepsychology for mental health services is increasing, according a survey released earlier this year by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. In the 2013-14 academic year, 6.6 percent of counseling centers reporting using telepsychology in some form. The following year, the figure was up to 9.1 percent.

“One of the things really concerning folks at university counseling centers is the growing demand for student counseling services,” Anne Hudgens, executive director of the Colorado State University Health Network, said. “It’s really hard to meet that demand and to sort through who has a critical issue and who is looking for help and support for more standard issues of stress and anxiety. We believe the help-seeking behavior of this generation is a positive thing, but we knew we had to find a way to get upstream.”

Dan Jones, chair of the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance and former president of the AUCCCD, said colleges have used distance counseling for years, though in the past those services connected students with licensed counselors over the phone. Jones said colleges that use hotlines, text message services and online behavioral therapy platforms aren’t aiming to replace face-to-face counseling, but to supplement it.

Early research, he said, suggests that telepsychology services can help students with issues like anxiety, but counselors are still determining the efficacy of the widening variety of digital tools in addressing other mental health issues. The Higher Education Mental Health Alliance, which includes the AUCCCD and other student affairs and mental health groups, is currently developing a new set of guidelines for colleges that use distance counseling and telepsychology services.

“The fact that there’s so many students using electronic equipment, these services are sort of a natural progression for counseling,” Jones said. “They’re a promising way to supplement counseling, and they’re proving effective for treating anxiety. We’re only just starting to learn whether they could help with more complicated problems.”

The Colorado State platform has two main functions. It acts as a personalized campus search engine, encouraging students to type in questions about mental health, physical fitness, campus life and career goals. A student wondering if there’s a way to meet people on campus with a similar background might be pointed to a cultural center or club. If a student’s searches indicate he or she is feeling suicidal, the website directs the student to call the campus counseling center and a suicide prevention hotline.

“The concept initially focused specifically on mental health and suicide prevention, but it grew into a more complete package,” Hudgens said. “It’s now about how you support students with a whole range of concerns. The goal is to reach students before their challenges have turned into a crisis.”

Students are also asked to fill out a series of questions -- what the platform calls “reality checks.” The assessments survey students on a variety of topics related to depression, suicide, body image, dietary habits and academic issues, among many other subjects. After completing the assessment, students are directed to a results page, where they are given next steps and recommendations on how to improve their mental and physical health. They are directed to specific campus resources if they are struggling in any particular area.

Last month, the fraternity Alpha Tau Omega announced that it was offering all of its members free access to a program called Unlimited Messaging Therapy through the app Talkspace. The app allows students to communicate with licensed therapists through text messages, photographs, audio and live video sessions. The fraternity is offering its members three months of the service for free.

“Fraternity chapters are ready-made communities that provide members a strong support system,” Wynn Smiley, ATO’s chief executive officer, said in an email. “At the same time, we want to provide the opportunity for any of our members who feel the need for some assistance the added benefit of professional counseling that is easily accessible. By effectively eliminating wait times, appointments and the anxiety of seeking mental health support, Talkspace is a perfect partner to help us shepherd a higher standard of mental wellness on campuses nationwide.“

Last week, the Steve Fund, an organization focused on improving the mental health of students of color, announced that it had received an $863,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to improve text messaging counseling services in “communities of color, while increasing data collection and research on the needs of this population.”

The Steve Fund already partners with a service called Crisis Text Line, which allows people struggling with anxiety, suicide, depression and other mental health concerns to talk, through text message, to a trained crisis counselor. Texting “Steve” to 741741 automatically connects students with the counselors. When people use that code, the counselor knows the person he or she is helping is likely a person of color. The grant announced last week will also be used to hire more minority counselors for the service.

Victor Schwartz, medical director for the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide among college students, said digital tools -- both online assessment platforms and text message counseling -- can be a mixed bag. Many text messaging counseling services use qualified and licensed counselors, meaning if a student indicates he or she is suicidal, the person is trained to deal with the situation appropriately. That includes calling the police or other emergency services. As colleges increasingly turn to these services, Schwartz said, they should ensure they are staffed with the kinds of counselors that officials would want working in their campus health centers.

“Having access to virtual treatment is better than nothing,” Schwartz said, “but you have to make sure there’s some kind of process to very carefully vet who those people are on the other end of the line.”

Some services, including the online platform at Colorado State, allow students to remain anonymous, however, meaning even if the content on the site has been carefully vetted by psychologists, there is no way of knowing when students are in need of immediate help. “At the same time, this is not a problem specific to this kind of counseling,” Schwartz said. “There’s always been a struggle between knowing that students are more willing to open up if they aren’t worried about police knocking on their door, and knowing that if we allow that level of anonymity we may not be able to help them in time.”

There are some other concerns with online therapy outside of its inability to allow for crisis intervention. Last year, researchers at the University of York, in Britain, found that people who used computer-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy, experienced no improvement in dealing with their depression over a four-month period. The researchers wrote that such platforms were “likely to be an ineffective form of low-intensity treatment for depression and an inefficient use of finite health care resources,” and that “participants said they wanted a greater level of clinical support as an adjunct to therapy, and, in the absence of this support, they commonly disengaged with the computer programs.”

Schwartz compared most online therapy options to massive open online courses.

“There’s that same challenge, where the novelty wears off and participation drops off,” Schwartz said. “At the same time, it’s certainly not a bad idea to have this as an option for students. If a school has running wait lists, or there are students you know aren’t seeking help face-to-face, this could have a useful role. No one should get any clever ideas of this replacing counselors.”

The mental and emotional health of students has been of increasing concern to colleges in recent years, even as many institutions struggle to find the resources to better address those concerns. More than half of college students say they have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the last year, according to the American College Health Association, and 32 percent say they have felt so depressed “that it was difficult to function.”

Nearly 10 percent of incoming freshmen who responded to last year’s American Freshman Survey reported that they “frequently felt depressed.” It was the highest percentage of students reporting feeling that level of depression since 1988, and 3.4 percentage points higher than in 2009, when the survey found the rate of frequently depressed freshmen to be at its lowest.

But colleges are struggling to meet this demand, and the vast majority of students do not seek help for their mental health concerns. Access to services remains a serious concern for many counseling center directors, according to the AUCCCD survey. Many note that, lacking enough counselors to meet demand, they must use triage systems and put some students on waiting lists before they can receive treatment.

Generally, smaller colleges reported shorter times of years that they had waiting lists for treatment. At colleges with enrollments of 1,501 to 2,500, directors reported an average of eight weeks a year in which waiting lists were used. At colleges with enrollments of 25,001 to 30,000, waiting lists were used an average of 23 weeks a year. At colleges with enrollments greater than 15,000, the average number of students on waiting lists exceeded 50, and it was as high as 70 for institutions with enrollments of 30,001 to 35,000.

As such, many colleges have tried widening access to mental health services for students in distress. In recent months, several colleges have announced that they will expand the hours and locations at which counselors can be sought out.

Earlier this year, the University of Iowa announced that it would hire eight new counselors to meet rising demand for more mental health services among its students. Currently the university has 12 counselors on staff. Rather than setting up new offices in the university’s counseling center, however, some of the new counselors are being embedded in various buildings around campus. In April, Pennsylvania State’s senior class raised money to create an endowment that would embed a counselor in a residence hall.

After complaints from students, Skidmore College hired an additional counselor and contracted with an outside firm to offer a 24-hour telephone hotline. Last year, following the suicide of a New Jersey woman who attended the University of Pennsylvania, the New Jersey State Senate passed a new law requiring that mental health professionals be available around the clock to assist the state’s college students. In January, Willamette University in Oregon partnered with ProtoCall, a 24-hour mental health hotline, to provide around-the-clock support to students. Amherst College launched a similar hotline about a year ago.

The online and texting tools now being used at some colleges are extension of that same desire to make mental health services more accessible. Nathaan Demers, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of clinical programs at Grit Digital Health, said distance counseling and telepsychology services are not intended to replace in-person counseling. Instead, he said, the goal is to reach students who wouldn’t otherwise receive any counseling.

“As a college counselor, I loved working with students, but who I worried about the most were students who didn’t come into my office,” Demers said. “We have an ethical responsibility to connect with people who are not knocking on our door. Digital technology is the first place where millennials are going to look for help.”

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Study finds large gap between graduation rates of black, white football players

Each year brings news that the graduation rates for college athletes have a hit a new record high, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association making particular note that African-American athletes “dramatically outperform” their nonathlete peers.

But a new study from the University of South Carolina’s College Sport Research Institute suggests that football players at the NCAA’s five wealthiest athletic conferences are in fact struggling to keep up with the rest of the student body. And black football players are falling behind more than other male students.

“The numbers are striking,” said Mark Nagel, associate director of the College Sport Research Institute. “There’s a very large discrepancy between football players and other full-time male students on campus. Many football players are not prepared for the rigors of college, and they’re being asked to step up to the plate academically while also having to work full time playing football. Both demands are taking up so much time, effort and energy, and it really creates a bad situation for them.”

The study compares the six-year federal graduation rates of institutions in the five wealthiest leagues — the Power Five, consisting of the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences — as well as the lower-tier Group of Five conferences. The researchers compared the rates of white and black football players to all full-time male students at their institutions.

Calling their measure the “adjusted graduation gap,” the researchers excluded all part-time students, a group that is normally included in the federal graduation rate, as long as they are full time when they first enroll. Part-time students, the researchers said, graduate at lower rates than do full-time students, and all Division I NCAA athletes are required to be full-time students. (Many Division I athletes also receive substantial athletic scholarships that diminish the likelihood they will have to drop out of college for financial reasons, as meaningful numbers of students do.)

The researchers found that when comparing federal gradation rates of only full-time students, the graduation gap for black football players in the Power Five conferences was nearly five times larger than that of white players. White football players graduated at a rate five percentage points lower than other full-time students. Black players graduated at a rate 25.2 percentage points lower than other full-time black male students.

The gap was smaller at the Group of Five leagues, which includes Conference-USA and the American Athletic, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Mountain West Conferences. The difference in graduation gaps for black and white players was 13.1 percentage points.

The findings “were concerning,” the researchers, wrote, “given the increasing economic exploitation of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision players.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has noted that the federal graduation rate used in the study does not account for students who transfer. When the NCAA’s metric, the graduation success rate, is used, graduation rates for all athletes are much higher, as it excludes athletes who have transferred or otherwise left in good academic standing — though not necessarily graduated. It also excludes athletes who have transferred into a program. “There is no evidence that any part-time bias exists in graduation rates,” the NCAA has stated, “and this approach does not account for the wide variety of campuses and types of students at those campuses.”

The association frequently touts in commercials and on its website that African-American college athletes outperform their nonathlete peers, according to the federal graduation rate. This includes all athletes in all sports across all NCAA institutions, and includes part-time students.

“The graduation success rate and unadjusted federal graduation rate don’t allow for that apples-to-apples comparison that our study does,” Nagel said. “We always just say it’s a different metric, and that it tells a different story — one is not necessarily better or worse.”

The new report joins other research that suggests black athletes in the top NCAA athletic conferences may not be receiving the education they were promised.

According to a study published in March by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, just over half of black male athletes at the 65 wealthiest athletics programs graduate within six years, compared to 68 percent of athletes over all and 75 percent of undergraduates over all. The gaps were comparable to when the center conducted a similar study in 2012.

The study compared the federal graduation rates of black male college athletes, all athletes, black male undergraduates and all undergraduates at Power Five colleges and universities. Two-thirds of those institutions graduated black male athletes at rates lower than black men who were not athletes. Just one institution — Northwestern University — graduated black male athletes at a rate higher than or equal to undergraduate students over all.

Shaun Harper, executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, said it’s time for the NCAA and colleges to better acknowledge the academic struggles of black male athletes, in particular those in revenue sports like football and basketball.

“Athletic departments have to be held accountable for ensuring they are bringing in people who are college ready and who are not just there to play football and basketball, and if you’re going to bring in people who are not academically prepared, the least you can do is get them the support they need,” Harper said. “The NCAA and athletics departments like to say, ‘We have all these student-athlete services and we have very sophisticated operations for helping athletes academically.’ But the data continue to tell us that those services are not good enough. You have to do more.”

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Is this breaking news?: 

Each year brings news that the graduation rates for college athletes have a hit a new record high, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association making particular note that African-American athletes “dramatically outperform” their nonathlete peers.

But a new study from the University of South Carolina’s College Sport Research Institute suggests that football players at the NCAA’s five wealthiest athletic conferences are in fact struggling to keep up with the rest of the student body. And black football players are falling behind more than other male students.

“The numbers are striking,” said Mark Nagel, associate director of the College Sport Research Institute. “There’s a very large discrepancy between football players and other full-time male students on campus. Many football players are not prepared for the rigors of college, and they’re being asked to step up to the plate academically while also having to work full time playing football. Both demands are taking up so much time, effort and energy, and it really creates a bad situation for them.”

The study compares the six-year federal graduation rates of institutions in the five wealthiest leagues -- the Power Five, consisting of the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences -- as well as the lower-tier Group of Five conferences. The researchers compared the rates of white and black football players to all full-time male students at their institutions.

Calling their measure the "adjusted graduation gap," the researchers excluded all part-time students, a group that is normally included in the federal graduation rate, as long as they are full time when they first enroll. Part-time students, the researchers said, graduate at lower rates than do full-time students, and all Division I NCAA athletes are required to be full-time students. (Many Division I athletes also receive substantial athletic scholarships that diminish the likelihood they will have to drop out of college for financial reasons, as meaningful numbers of students do.)

The researchers found that when comparing federal gradation rates of only full-time students, the graduation gap for black football players in the Power Five conferences was nearly five times larger than that of white players. White football players graduated at a rate five percentage points lower than other full-time students. Black players graduated at a rate 25.2 percentage points lower than other full-time black male students.

The gap was smaller at the Group of Five leagues, which includes Conference-USA and the American Athletic, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Mountain West Conferences. The difference in graduation gaps for black and white players was 13.1 percentage points.

The findings “were concerning,” the researchers, wrote, “given the increasing economic exploitation of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision players.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has noted that the federal graduation rate used in the study does not account for students who transfer. When the NCAA's metric, the graduation success rate, is used, graduation rates for all athletes are much higher, as it excludes athletes who have transferred or otherwise left in good academic standing -- though not necessarily graduated. It also excludes athletes who have transferred into a program. "There is no evidence that any part-time bias exists in graduation rates," the NCAA has stated, "and this approach does not account for the wide variety of campuses and types of students at those campuses."

The association frequently touts in commercials and on its website that African-American college athletes outperform their nonathlete peers, according to the federal graduation rate. This includes all athletes in all sports across all NCAA institutions, and includes part-time students.

“The graduation success rate and unadjusted federal graduation rate don’t allow for that apples-to-apples comparison that our study does,” Nagel said. “We always just say it’s a different metric, and that it tells a different story -- one is not necessarily better or worse.”

The new report joins other research that suggests black athletes in the top NCAA athletic conferences may not be receiving the education they were promised.

According to a study published in March by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, just over half of black male athletes at the 65 wealthiest athletics programs graduate within six years, compared to 68 percent of athletes over all and 75 percent of undergraduates over all. The gaps were comparable to when the center conducted a similar study in 2012.

The study compared the federal graduation rates of black male college athletes, all athletes, black male undergraduates and all undergraduates at Power Five colleges and universities. Two-thirds of those institutions graduated black male athletes at rates lower than black men who were not athletes. Just one institution -- Northwestern University -- graduated black male athletes at a rate higher than or equal to undergraduate students over all.

Shaun Harper, executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, said it’s time for the NCAA and colleges to better acknowledge the academic struggles of black male athletes, in particular those in revenue sports like football and basketball.

“Athletic departments have to be held accountable for ensuring they are bringing in people who are college ready and who are not just there to play football and basketball, and if you’re going to bring in people who are not academically prepared, the least you can do is get them the support they need,” Harper said. “The NCAA and athletics departments like to say, ‘We have all these student-athlete services and we have very sophisticated operations for helping athletes academically.’ But the data continue to tell us that those services are not good enough. You have to do more.”

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Colleges turn to online, text messaging services to help with counseling demand

“Do parties or social situations ever make you uncomfortable?”

“How would you categorize your stress level?”

“How often would you say you feel overwhelming anger or irritability?”

These are some of the questions t…

“Do parties or social situations ever make you uncomfortable?”

“How would you categorize your stress level?”

“How often would you say you feel overwhelming anger or irritability?”

These are some of the questions that greet students at Colorado State University when they log in to the university’s new online mental health portal, You@CSU. Created through a partnership with Grit Digital Health and officially launched this semester, You@CSU acts as a virtual counselor, asking students questions about their mental and physical well-being and directing them to the appropriate campus resources.

The platform is one of several digital tools -- from online portals to text messaging services and smartphone apps -- that colleges are using to provide wider access to mental health services as campus health centers struggle to meet the rising counseling demands of students. Use of what’s called telepsychology for mental health services is increasing, according a survey released earlier this year by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. In the 2013-14 academic year, 6.6 percent of counseling centers reporting using telepsychology in some form. The following year, the figure was up to 9.1 percent.

“One of the things really concerning folks at university counseling centers is the growing demand for student counseling services,” Anne Hudgens, executive director of the Colorado State University Health Network, said. “It’s really hard to meet that demand and to sort through who has a critical issue and who is looking for help and support for more standard issues of stress and anxiety. We believe the help-seeking behavior of this generation is a positive thing, but we knew we had to find a way to get upstream.”

Dan Jones, chair of the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance and former president of the AUCCCD, said colleges have used distance counseling for years, though in the past those services connected students with licensed counselors over the phone. Jones said colleges that use hotlines, text message services and online behavioral therapy platforms aren’t aiming to replace face-to-face counseling, but to supplement it.

Early research, he said, suggests that telepsychology services can help students with issues like anxiety, but counselors are still determining the efficacy of the widening variety of digital tools in addressing other mental health issues. The Higher Education Mental Health Alliance, which includes the AUCCCD and other student affairs and mental health groups, is currently developing a new set of guidelines for colleges that use distance counseling and telepsychology services.

“The fact that there’s so many students using electronic equipment, these services are sort of a natural progression for counseling,” Jones said. “They’re a promising way to supplement counseling, and they’re proving effective for treating anxiety. We’re only just starting to learn whether they could help with more complicated problems.”

The Colorado State platform has two main functions. It acts as a personalized campus search engine, encouraging students to type in questions about mental health, physical fitness, campus life and career goals. A student wondering if there’s a way to meet people on campus with a similar background might be pointed to a cultural center or club. If a student’s searches indicate he or she is feeling suicidal, the website directs the student to call the campus counseling center and a suicide prevention hotline.

“The concept initially focused specifically on mental health and suicide prevention, but it grew into a more complete package,” Hudgens said. “It’s now about how you support students with a whole range of concerns. The goal is to reach students before their challenges have turned into a crisis.”

Students are also asked to fill out a series of questions -- what the platform calls “reality checks.” The assessments survey students on a variety of topics related to depression, suicide, body image, dietary habits and academic issues, among many other subjects. After completing the assessment, students are directed to a results page, where they are given next steps and recommendations on how to improve their mental and physical health. They are directed to specific campus resources if they are struggling in any particular area.

Last month, the fraternity Alpha Tau Omega announced that it was offering all of its members free access to a program called Unlimited Messaging Therapy through the app Talkspace. The app allows students to communicate with licensed therapists through text messages, photographs, audio and live video sessions. The fraternity is offering its members three months of the service for free.

“Fraternity chapters are ready-made communities that provide members a strong support system,” Wynn Smiley, ATO’s chief executive officer, said in an email. “At the same time, we want to provide the opportunity for any of our members who feel the need for some assistance the added benefit of professional counseling that is easily accessible. By effectively eliminating wait times, appointments and the anxiety of seeking mental health support, Talkspace is a perfect partner to help us shepherd a higher standard of mental wellness on campuses nationwide.“

Last week, the Steve Fund, an organization focused on improving the mental health of students of color, announced that it had received an $863,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to improve text messaging counseling services in “communities of color, while increasing data collection and research on the needs of this population.”

The Steve Fund already partners with a service called Crisis Text Line, which allows people struggling with anxiety, suicide, depression and other mental health concerns to talk, through text message, to a trained crisis counselor. Texting “Steve” to 741741 automatically connects students with the counselors. When people use that code, the counselor knows the person he or she is helping is likely a person of color. The grant announced last week will also be used to hire more minority counselors for the service.

Victor Schwartz, medical director for the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide among college students, said digital tools -- both online assessment platforms and text message counseling -- can be a mixed bag. Many text messaging counseling services use qualified and licensed counselors, meaning if a student indicates he or she is suicidal, the person is trained to deal with the situation appropriately. That includes calling the police or other emergency services. As colleges increasingly turn to these services, Schwartz said, they should ensure they are staffed with the kinds of counselors that officials would want working in their campus health centers.

“Having access to virtual treatment is better than nothing,” Schwartz said, “but you have to make sure there’s some kind of process to very carefully vet who those people are on the other end of the line.”

Some services, including the online platform at Colorado State, allow students to remain anonymous, however, meaning even if the content on the site has been carefully vetted by psychologists, there is no way of knowing when students are in need of immediate help. “At the same time, this is not a problem specific to this kind of counseling,” Schwartz said. “There’s always been a struggle between knowing that students are more willing to open up if they aren’t worried about police knocking on their door, and knowing that if we allow that level of anonymity we may not be able to help them in time.”

There are some other concerns with online therapy outside of its inability to allow for crisis intervention. Last year, researchers at the University of York, in Britain, found that people who used computer-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy, similar to Colorado State’s website, experienced no improvement in dealing with their depression over a four-month period. The researchers wrote that such platforms were “likely to be an ineffective form of low-intensity treatment for depression and an inefficient use of finite health care resources,” and that “participants said they wanted a greater level of clinical support as an adjunct to therapy, and, in the absence of this support, they commonly disengaged with the computer programs.”

Schwartz compared most online therapy options to massive open online courses.

“There’s that same challenge, where the novelty wears off and participation drops off,” Schwartz said. “At the same time, it’s certainly not a bad idea to have this as an option for students. If a school has running wait lists, or there are students you know aren’t seeking help face-to-face, this could have a useful role. No one should get any clever ideas of this replacing counselors.”

The mental and emotional health of students has been of increasing concern to colleges in recent years, even as many institutions struggle to find the resources to better address those concerns. More than half of college students say they have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the last year, according to the American College Health Association, and 32 percent say they have felt so depressed “that it was difficult to function.”

Nearly 10 percent of incoming freshmen who responded to last year’s American Freshman Survey reported that they “frequently felt depressed.” It was the highest percentage of students reporting feeling that level of depression since 1988, and 3.4 percentage points higher than in 2009, when the survey found the rate of frequently depressed freshmen to be at its lowest.

But colleges are struggling to meet this demand, and the vast majority of students do not seek help for their mental health concerns. Access to services remains a serious concern for many counseling center directors, according to the AUCCCD survey. Many note that, lacking enough counselors to meet demand, they must use triage systems and put some students on waiting lists before they can receive treatment.

Generally, smaller colleges reported shorter times of years that they had waiting lists for treatment. At colleges with enrollments of 1,501 to 2,500, directors reported an average of eight weeks a year in which waiting lists were used. At colleges with enrollments of 25,001 to 30,000, waiting lists were used an average of 23 weeks a year. At colleges with enrollments greater than 15,000, the average number of students on waiting lists exceeded 50, and it was as high as 70 for institutions with enrollments of 30,001 to 35,000.

As such, many colleges have tried widening access to mental health services for students in distress. In recent months, several colleges have announced that they will expand the hours and locations at which counselors can be sought out.

Earlier this year, the University of Iowa announced that it would hire eight new counselors to meet rising demand for more mental health services among its students. Currently the university has 12 counselors on staff. Rather than setting up new offices in the university’s counseling center, however, some of the new counselors are being embedded in various buildings around campus. In April, Pennsylvania State’s senior class raised money to create an endowment that would embed a counselor in a residence hall.

After complaints from students, Skidmore College hired an additional counselor and contracted with an outside firm to offer a 24-hour telephone hotline. Last year, following the suicide of a New Jersey woman who attended the University of Pennsylvania, the New Jersey State Senate passed a new law requiring that mental health professionals be available around the clock to assist the state’s college students. In January, Willamette University in Oregon partnered with ProtoCall, a 24-hour mental health hotline, to provide around-the-clock support to students. Amherst College launched a similar hotline about a year ago.

The online and texting tools now being used at some colleges are extension of that same desire to make mental health services more accessible. Nathaan Demers, a former college counselor and director of clinical programs at Grit Digital Health, said distance counseling and telepsychology services are not intended to replace in-person counseling. Instead, he said, the goal is to reach students who wouldn’t otherwise receive any counseling.

“As a college counselor, I loved working with students, but who I worried about the most were students who didn’t come into my office,” Demers said. “We have an ethical responsibility to connect with people who are not knocking on our door. Digital technology is the first place where millennials are going to look for help.”

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Consultants’ advice, including to limit courses with high failure rates, perturbs professors at Illinois State

Most professors would probably agree that their institutions must balance their budgets. Those charged with doing the balancing often seek help from consulting groups, which counsel administrations on streamlining or otherwise optimizing operations. Bu…

Most professors would probably agree that their institutions must balance their budgets. Those charged with doing the balancing often seek help from consulting groups, which counsel administrations on streamlining or otherwise optimizing operations. But to most professors, education should remain the domain of faculty members.

So instructional aspects of Illinois State University’s work with the Education Advisory Board, a major higher education best practices and research firm, have faculty members up in arms. In a recent op-ed in Vidette Online, the student newspaper, more than 30 professors accused Illinois State and EAB of telling them to limit course offerings with high failure or withdrawal rates and to make their courses more utilitarian.

To the professors, those tips -- contained in PowerPoint presentations they say were either presented or inspired by EAB -- are code for dumbing down course content and abandoning the liberal arts.

Yet EAB and the university say the advice was taken out of context and was not meant to discourage academic rigor or quality. Rather, they say, high-failure-rate courses should be redesigned with an eye on student success -- not ease.

“The implicit message of those PowerPoint presentations should give pause and elicit opposition from administrators, faculty and students alike, for it risks undermining our core values and mission,” reads the faculty op-ed. “One essentially advises faculty to teach and grade in ways to please our students and so keep them enrolled (and paying!). According to the EAB’s ‘Road Map for Realizing Academic Ambitions,’ institutions must ‘limit high-DFW [D/fail/withdrawal] courses.’”

The faculty members say that means they’d all have to give students C’s or better, in an effort to encourage retention.

But changing students’ grades to keep them happy represents a slippery slope, they say.

“If, for example, students do not like to read, should faculty dispense with having them read?” the op-ed reads. “We may attract students’ attention with fun and games, but we will never secure their education (or respect) by replacing robust pedagogy with worthless proxies.”

Faculty members also say that another PowerPoint presentation from the provost’s office, inspired by an EAB template, recommends that Illinois State courses and programs be utilitarian and lead to a job.

“The PowerPoint from the provost’s office suggests that we ‘prioritize electives by focusing on student needs,’” their letter says. “Such a guiding principle essentially declares that the humanities particularly and liberal arts more generally have little or no support and role to play at our university, since the humanities are typically considered impractical and of scant utility, in other words, not what students need.”

J. M. van der Laan, a professor of languages, literature and culture at Illinois State who signed the op-ed, said he didn’t feel explicit pressure to change his own courses. But implicit pressure exists for all faculty members, due to the university’s emphasis on retention, he said.

“What is at stake is the general change in direction at our university (which truth be told has been underway for some time now) to employ a strictly business model for higher education,” he added via email.

David Attis, the managing director of strategic research at EAB, who presented at Illinois State earlier this year, didn’t deny that he advised professors to limit high-failure courses. But he said the comment was part of a larger conversation about rethinking courses with relatively rates of failure, withdrawal and students earning D grades so that more undergraduates finish them and earn credit to advance toward their degrees (many high-fail courses are gateway classes to certain majors).

That doesn’t mean handing out A’s, B’s and C’s, Attis said. Instead, universities are encouraged to run controlled experiments in which a pilot course redesign runs in tandem with a longer-running version of the course. Students in both sections are given the same final assessment, and their grades are compared. If students in the new course do better those in the old one, he said, it’s clear rigor wasn’t sacrificed -- instruction was simply improved. Some community colleges have employed variations of this with some success, by focusing on changing courses with the most failures. EAB published a blog post late Tuesday with its perspective on the debate.

Attis acknowledged that some professors bristle at the notion of catering their courses to students, rather than students adjusting to meet their teaching styles. But more underprepared students are now attending college as result of access efforts, and universities both want and need to help them succeed.

“I think is a misinterpretation of a few bullet points,” Attis said of faculty concerns. “In reality we agree with faculty goals and the need for rigorous academic standards and the liberal arts.”

Faculty members in their op-ed also disagree with an EAB slide recommending a paradigm shift from “every discipline deserves equal investment” to “investing equally in all disciplines will lead to mediocrity.”

“The university must invest in a broad range of disciplines in order to prepare the next generation with the kinds of creative and dynamic thinking required to devise solutions for the economic, political, environmental and social crises of our times,” they say.

Attis said EAB fully believes in the liberal arts, but that “one critical point is that universities have to find ways to invest in student success, even where funding is being cut.”

That’s particularly true in Illinois, which hasn’t had a full operating budget in over a year. Public institutions have felt the squeeze.

Yet Janet Krejci, provost at Illinois State, said the university has been able to maintain its standing as a liberal arts-focused institution with select graduate programs. And the university’s commitment to the liberal arts -- or academic rigor -- isn’t going away, she said.

“We feel very strongly about this,” she said. “We’ve told external stakeholders that even if a student learns some kind of skill or competency, that’s not what they’re going to be doing for their entire life. They need to learn to make good judgments and need critical thinking and the ability to communicate. This is what an education is all about.”

Illinois State began working with EAB on enrollment issues before it joined the academic affairs programs. A university spokesperson said, “No final decisions on classes or academic programs have been made based on that input,” and Illinois State is working with EAB “because it wants to be proactive in its planning and because it values gathering professional expertise to help inform its decision making.”

The faculty letter also questions the cost of that relationship, which the university valued at about $75,000 for two years for both academic and enrollment advising.

Jennifer Howell, an associate professor of language, literature and cultures who signed the letter, said professors are “not attempting to demonize administrators, but we are trying to highlight a flaw in corporate models of higher education.” She recalled, for example, a 2013 experience in which a syllabus for an honors course was at first rejected because it was deemed too difficult. After significant cuts to content, she said, it was approved. 

Illinois State’s enrollment was 20,502 in 2012. It dipped below 20,000 in 2013 but climbed to 21,039 this fall.

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University at Buffalo Foundation turns down shared governance proposal

An unusual proposal to address concerns about transparency and oversight at the University at Buffalo Foundation had the mark of a good compromise — it would have left no one happy.

But the proposal, which called for adding a faculty member, a professional staff member and a student to the foundation’s board, won’t go into effect after the foundation turned it down recently. That leaves critics unsurprised. It also leaves the foundation, a private nonprofit organization with more than $1 billion in assets and a mission to support a public institution — the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo — as the likely target of continued calls for increased scrutiny.

The proposal’s death is a small development in a long-running struggle playing out in Buffalo and the SUNY system. It also reflects fights for foundation transparency that take place periodically at different public universities across the country. The foundation setup favored by many institutions, in which a private nonprofit entity manages large amounts of money for operations like endowments, fund-raising and even real estate development, is being tested by those who say greater transparency is needed to prevent the potential for wrongdoing and the abuse of public assets. Critics also say transparency promotes the use of foundation-controlled wealth in ways that reflect the needs of diverse campus constituencies.

Vocal faculty members at Buffalo have been calling for more foundation transparency for years, notably asking that the foundation be subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Foundation officials have maintained that they are generally open with information but that they run a private organization that needs its private status to attract and protect donors. The issue flared up in recent months in a very public way that included a back-and-forth on the editorial pages of a local newspaper.

Then the chairman of the UB Faculty Senate, Philip L. Glick, brought the foundation a plan that served as a compromise between faculty and foundation. Glick, a professor of surgery at the University at Buffalo’s school of medicine, attempted to graft the idea of shared governance onto the debate. His idea was to address concerns by adding faculty, staff and student voices into the foundation’s governance instead of by forcing it to open its books.

“It was basically in the spirit of shared governance — to try to come up with a compromise to allow more people in the room when decisions were being made,” Glick said. “We could all have walked out of the room and said we agreed with the decisions being made.”

While it’s unusual to use shared governance as a way to try to tackle transparency concerns, there is precedent for faculty representation on foundation boards. In 2015, 21.8 percent of foundation boards had ex officio seats for faculty representatives, according to Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges data. That was down from 22.8 percent in 2011.

Even though university foundations are private, they’re typically expected to communicate clearly with universities, said Merrill P. Schwartz, vice president for AGB Consulting. But that communication doesn’t always mean talking directly to faculty members or students.

“Having good communication between foundations and universities and reporting on how funds are used is important and expected,” Schwartz said. “The communication is usually quite good, but it might not be with a student or faculty member.”

The University at Buffalo Foundation rejected Glick’s idea, however. Foundation Chairman Francis M. Letro said the foundation was sufficiently transparent, Glick said.

The foundation’s executive director, Edward P. Schneider, issued a statement further explaining the decision. The foundation’s bylaws already include shared governance, he said. University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi is a foundation trustee. Several university administrators are also nonvoting members of the foundation board. Jeremy M. Jacobs, who chairs the University at Buffalo Council, which acts as the institution’s oversight and advisory body, is also a trustee emeritus at the foundation.

Adding faculty, staff and students would be unnecessary, Schneider said.

“Involving the foundation in internal university matters concerning the Faculty Senate, professional staff senate, the student body and the university administration would be in conflict with the mission of the foundation,” Schneider’s statement said. “It is not our role, nor should it be our role, to get involved in university matters, especially as it pertains to faculty. That is best left to internal governance at the university.”

One of the most vocal faculty members arguing for more transparency from the foundation was also critical of the proposal. Stephen Halpern is an emeritus professor of political science who is president of the Buffalo chapter of the American Association of University Presidents — a chapter that is not the collective bargaining agent at the university. It’s encouraging that the Faculty Senate was trying to address the issue, Halpern said. But he believes it did not cut to the fundamental question of an organization claiming it is private even as he sees it as operating on behalf of a public university.

“It’s an irrelevant proposal, and the rejection is irrelevant,” Halpern said. “Much more fundamental underlying questions exist.”

The AAUP chapter has been heavily involved in the calls for more transparency at the foundation. In February it posted a document questioning rising foundation assets at a time of falling state support, rising tuition, increasing fees and challenging conditions for professors. The document went on to argue that the foundation operates in the university’s name and should therefore open its books. It raised several questions including what spending plan the foundation follows, how it decides on its priorities and how it assesses its expenditures.

“Secrecy isn’t a necessity,” said the document. “It’s a choice. There is no conflict between an efficiently managed public university foundation and the civic virtue of transparency. Even if transparency reveals no further questions or concerns about the UBF, the increase in public confidence will be worth it.”

That prompted foundation chairman Letro to write an opinion piece in The Buffalo News criticizing the document as “maligning” the foundation. The foundation carries out its work ethically, lawfully and in the best interest of the university and community, it said.

“UBF’s status as a private organization is essential for attracting and safeguarding financial gifts that benefit students, faculty and academic programs,” Letro wrote.

Letro also argued the foundation enables projects that would otherwise be difficult.

“With UBF’s support, UB is able to make a tremendous impact on students, faculty and staff and, in turn, the Buffalo community,” he wrote. “For example: with funding from UBF, the university moved quickly ahead on a new medical school building downtown, saving taxpayers millions in construction costs. Without UBF’s support, the project would have been delayed for years or may never have happened at all.”

The university’s president, Tripathi, has also weighed in on the debate. He wrote publicly about the foundation and its role in April. The foundation must consider donors’ wishes when it comes to disclosure, he wrote.

“It is important to note, however, that the vast majority of resources deposited in the UB Foundation have restrictions placed upon them by donors,” he wrote. “Both UB and the UB Foundation have a shared responsibility to steward these resources in accordance with donor wishes, and therefore are obligated to keep these records private if that is the donor’s intent.”

And Tripathi pointed out that the foundation is regulated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which publishes its filings online. The organization’s audited financial statements and federal Form 990s are also public.

That level of disclosure is not adequate for Halpern, though. The Form 990s only provide a “skeletal view” of operations, he said. That makes it difficult to see what the foundation pays employees. The foundation has spent millions in recent years on salaries, Halpern said.

“We don’t know who those individuals are,” he said. “We don’t know where they got the money. We don’t know how much money they got. It would appear from the little we do know that a significant number of those individuals are state employees who are, in some cases, already pulling down very substantial state salaries.”

Without more transparency, it’s difficult to have the debate over whether the university is properly dividing spending between scholarships, student support, salaries and other projects, Halpern added.

Critics are not saying that the foundation is making the wrong judgments, said Martha McCluskey, a professor in the university’s School of Law and the secretary/treasurer of the local AAUP chapter. But they are saying it’s important to have more information on how they are made.

The issue of transparency has taken on more and more importance as public funding for universities declines, McCluskey said.

“There’s a sense of being squeezed because of declining public funding,” she said. “Buffalo is incredibly fortunate to have this sizable UB Foundation, and they have a substantial amount of resources. So the question is, what are we getting for that?”

The debate in Buffalo comes as the State University of New York system changed its guidelines on foundations.

Buffalo AAUP members met with SUNY staffers earlier in 2016 to talk about changing guidelines regarding institutions and their foundations. Chancellor Nancy Zimpher had suggested changes after a scandal involving an Upstate Medical University fund and the medical university’s former president, David R. Smith, in 2013, The Buffalo News reported. She had wanted to be able to appoint foundation board members and to have foundations receive written approval for capital funding from the chancellor and campus presidents. But when new guidelines were presented for approval, University at Buffalo critics said they’d lost their teeth.

Revisions to the guidelines, issued this spring, include requiring campus foundations to maintain systems of internal controls related to achieving objectives, financial reporting, safeguarding of assets, compliance with laws and operating efficiently. They also require foundations to maintain policies and procedures to protect whistle-blowers and report potential conflicts of interest to the Office of the University Auditor.

A major issue continues to be whether the University at Buffalo Foundation is subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law. A 2011 State Supreme Court ruling found that it is not. But other court rulings have said similar foundations at other SUNY institutions are subject to the law. The executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government has also written advisory opinions indicating foundations at public universities are subject to the law.

While some wait for the issue to be decided in a future court case, the union representing faculty on 29 State University of New York campuses, United University Professions, has pushed for legislation that would make campus foundations open to New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

The union has tried to address foundation concerns by stipulating in its legislative proposals that donor identities would be protected, said Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions. It has also argued transparency could encourage donors.

“I would think information would prove helpful in encouraging donors,” Kowal said. “If I was donating toward a foundation, I would want to know that the money was being used for the purpose of supporting the university’s mission.”

Meanwhile, SUNY Auditor Michael Abbot has said his office is auditing the University at Buffalo Foundation in what has been called the first outside audit of the foundation since the 1960s.

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The University at Buffalo Foundation has been the center of debate over transparency requirements for public universities’ private foundations.
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An unusual proposal to address concerns about transparency and oversight at the University at Buffalo Foundation had the mark of a good compromise -- it would have left no one happy.

But the proposal, which called for adding a faculty member, a professional staff member and a student to the foundation’s board, won’t go into effect after the foundation turned it down recently. That leaves critics unsurprised. It also leaves the foundation, a private nonprofit organization with more than $1 billion in assets and a mission to support a public institution -- the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo -- as the likely target of continued calls for increased scrutiny.

The proposal’s death is a small development in a long-running struggle playing out in Buffalo and the SUNY system. It also reflects fights for foundation transparency that take place periodically at different public universities across the country. The foundation setup favored by many institutions, in which a private nonprofit entity manages large amounts of money for operations like endowments, fund-raising and even real estate development, is being tested by those who say greater transparency is needed to prevent the potential for wrongdoing and the abuse of public assets. Critics also say transparency promotes the use of foundation-controlled wealth in ways that reflect the needs of diverse campus constituencies.

Vocal faculty members at Buffalo have been calling for more foundation transparency for years, notably asking that the foundation be subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Foundation officials have maintained that they are generally open with information but that they run a private organization that needs its private status to attract and protect donors. The issue flared up in recent months in a very public way that included a back-and-forth on the editorial pages of a local newspaper.

Then the chairman of the UB Faculty Senate, Philip L. Glick, brought the foundation a plan that served as a compromise between faculty and foundation. Glick, a professor of surgery at the University at Buffalo’s school of medicine, attempted to graft the idea of shared governance onto the debate. His idea was to address concerns by adding faculty, staff and student voices into the foundation’s governance instead of by forcing it to open its books.

“It was basically in the spirit of shared governance -- to try to come up with a compromise to allow more people in the room when decisions were being made,” Glick said. “We could all have walked out of the room and said we agreed with the decisions being made.”

While it’s unusual to use shared governance as a way to try to tackle transparency concerns, there is precedent for faculty representation on foundation boards. In 2015, 21.8 percent of foundation boards had ex officio seats for faculty representatives, according to Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges data. That was down from 22.8 percent in 2011.

Even though university foundations are private, they’re typically expected to communicate clearly with universities, said Merrill P. Schwartz, vice president for AGB Consulting. But that communication doesn’t always mean talking directly to faculty members or students.

“Having good communication between foundations and universities and reporting on how funds are used is important and expected,” Schwartz said. “The communication is usually quite good, but it might not be with a student or faculty member.”

The University at Buffalo Foundation rejected Glick’s idea, however. Foundation Chairman Francis M. Letro said the foundation was sufficiently transparent, Glick said.

The foundation’s executive director, Edward P. Schneider, issued a statement further explaining the decision. The foundation’s bylaws already include shared governance, he said. University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi is a foundation trustee. Several university administrators are also nonvoting members of the foundation board. Jeremy M. Jacobs, who chairs the University at Buffalo Council, which acts as the institution’s oversight and advisory body, is also a trustee emeritus at the foundation.

Adding faculty, staff and students would be unnecessary, Schneider said.

“Involving the foundation in internal university matters concerning the Faculty Senate, professional staff senate, the student body and the university administration would be in conflict with the mission of the foundation,” Schneider’s statement said. “It is not our role, nor should it be our role, to get involved in university matters, especially as it pertains to faculty. That is best left to internal governance at the university.”

One of the most vocal faculty members arguing for more transparency from the foundation was also critical of the proposal. Stephen Halpern is an emeritus professor of political science who is president of the Buffalo chapter of the American Association of University Presidents -- a chapter that is not the collective bargaining agent at the university. It’s encouraging that the Faculty Senate was trying to address the issue, Halpern said. But he believes it did not cut to the fundamental question of an organization claiming it is private even as he sees it as operating on behalf of a public university.

“It’s an irrelevant proposal, and the rejection is irrelevant,” Halpern said. “Much more fundamental underlying questions exist.”

The AAUP chapter has been heavily involved in the calls for more transparency at the foundation. In February it posted a document questioning rising foundation assets at a time of falling state support, rising tuition, increasing fees and challenging conditions for professors. The document went on to argue that the foundation operates in the university’s name and should therefore open its books. It raised several questions including what spending plan the foundation follows, how it decides on its priorities and how it assesses its expenditures.

“Secrecy isn’t a necessity,” said the document. “It’s a choice. There is no conflict between an efficiently managed public university foundation and the civic virtue of transparency. Even if transparency reveals no further questions or concerns about the UBF, the increase in public confidence will be worth it.”

That prompted foundation chairman Letro to write an opinion piece in The Buffalo News criticizing the document as “maligning” the foundation. The foundation carries out its work ethically, lawfully and in the best interest of the university and community, it said.

“UBF’s status as a private organization is essential for attracting and safeguarding financial gifts that benefit students, faculty and academic programs,” Letro wrote.

Letro also argued the foundation enables projects that would otherwise be difficult.

“With UBF’s support, UB is able to make a tremendous impact on students, faculty and staff and, in turn, the Buffalo community,” he wrote. “For example: with funding from UBF, the university moved quickly ahead on a new medical school building downtown, saving taxpayers millions in construction costs. Without UBF’s support, the project would have been delayed for years or may never have happened at all.”

The university’s president, Tripathi, has also weighed in on the debate. He wrote publicly about the foundation and its role in April. The foundation must consider donors’ wishes when it comes to disclosure, he wrote.

“It is important to note, however, that the vast majority of resources deposited in the UB Foundation have restrictions placed upon them by donors,” he wrote. “Both UB and the UB Foundation have a shared responsibility to steward these resources in accordance with donor wishes, and therefore are obligated to keep these records private if that is the donor’s intent.”

And Tripathi pointed out that the foundation is regulated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which publishes its filings online. The organization’s audited financial statements and federal Form 990s are also public.

That level of disclosure is not adequate for Halpern, though. The Form 990s only provide a “skeletal view” of operations, he said. That makes it difficult to see what the foundation pays employees. The foundation has spent millions in recent years on salaries, Halpern said.

“We don’t know who those individuals are,” he said. “We don’t know where they got the money. We don’t know how much money they got. It would appear from the little we do know that a significant number of those individuals are state employees who are, in some cases, already pulling down very substantial state salaries.”

Without more transparency, it’s difficult to have the debate over whether the university is properly dividing spending between scholarships, student support, salaries and other projects, Halpern added.

Critics are not saying that the foundation is making the wrong judgments, said Martha McCluskey, a professor in the university’s School of Law and the secretary/treasurer of the local AAUP chapter. But they are saying it’s important to have more information on how they are made.

The issue of transparency has taken on more and more importance as public funding for universities declines, McCluskey said.

“There’s a sense of being squeezed because of declining public funding,” she said. “Buffalo is incredibly fortunate to have this sizable UB Foundation, and they have a substantial amount of resources. So the question is, what are we getting for that?”

The debate in Buffalo comes as the State University of New York system changed its guidelines on foundations.

Buffalo AAUP members met with SUNY staffers earlier in 2016 to talk about changing guidelines regarding institutions and their foundations. Chancellor Nancy Zimpher had suggested changes after a scandal involving an Upstate Medical University fund and the medical university’s former president, David R. Smith, in 2013, The Buffalo News reported. She had wanted to be able to appoint foundation board members and to have foundations receive written approval for capital funding from the chancellor and campus presidents. But when new guidelines were presented for approval, University at Buffalo critics said they’d lost their teeth.

Revisions to the guidelines, issued this spring, include requiring campus foundations to maintain systems of internal controls related to achieving objectives, financial reporting, safeguarding of assets, compliance with laws and operating efficiently. They also require foundations to maintain policies and procedures to protect whistle-blowers and report potential conflicts of interest to the Office of the University Auditor.

A major issue continues to be whether the University at Buffalo Foundation is subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law. A 2011 State Supreme Court ruling found that it is not. But other court rulings have said similar foundations at other SUNY institutions are subject to the law. The executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government has also written advisory opinions indicating foundations at public universities are subject to the law.

While some wait for the issue to be decided in a future court case, the union representing faculty on 29 State University of New York campuses, United University Professions, has pushed for legislation that would make campus foundations open to New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

The union has tried to address foundation concerns by stipulating in its legislative proposals that donor identities would be protected, said Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions. It has also argued transparency could encourage donors.

“I would think information would prove helpful in encouraging donors,” Kowal said. “If I was donating toward a foundation, I would want to know that the money was being used for the purpose of supporting the university’s mission.”

Meanwhile, SUNY Auditor Michael Abbot has said his office is auditing the University at Buffalo Foundation in what has been called the first outside audit of the foundation since the 1960s.

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Liberty blocks its student paper from publishing column critical of Trump

Liberty University students issued a statement last week criticizing their president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for his endorsement of and campaigning for Donald Trump, even after the release of a video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women (boasts he describes as “locker room talk”). Falwell responded by issuing his own statement, criticizing the students’ views but saying that their ability to speak out was “a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas, unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out.”

Despite the rhetoric, the university prevented Joel Schmieg, the sports editor of its student newspaper, The Liberty Champion, from running a column criticizing Trump.

Schmieg posted his column to his Facebook page and it has since started to spread. In introducing his column on Facebook, Schmieg wrote that he found Falwell’s statements about free expression at Liberty to be “amusing and extremely hypocritical” in light of the university preventing his column from appearing.

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said via email that he was concerned about any such censorship — and he added that such censorship simply isn’t effective, either. “Of course, Liberty is a private university not subject to First Amendment constraints, but the best private universities voluntarily maintain a hands-off policy respectful of the integrity of independent journalism. Leaving aside the civic and educational benefits of fostering critical-thinking skills on a college campus, it’s just self-defeating in the year 2016 to think you can suppress unwanted ideas by tearing articles out of paper newspapers. When you censor an article in the 21st century, you’re just guaranteeing it a wider audience. I doubt many 20-year-old sports columnists are being read across the country, but by censoring Joel’s column, the university has exponentially increased its impact. There’s nothing more irresistible than journalism powerful authority figures don’t want you to read.”

A spokesman for Liberty, Len Stevens, reached at home Tuesday night, said he heard about the controversy when President Falwell shared with him texts the president exchanged with his son Trey (as Jerry Falwell III is known). The texts confirmed that the university prevented the column from being published, but did not indicate that President Falwell was involved directly, said Stevens. Stevens said that Schmieg’s column was “redundant” with another piece and was blocked because of space constraints, as an “editorial decision.” Stevens did not respond to questions about how blocking a column critical of Trump might not be consistent with President Falwell’s statements about free expression.

Schmieg noted that, as sports editor, he has a regular column that does not compete with other pieces for space. As a result, Schmieg said that he had to write another column when his piece about Trump was pulled. “It’s not an issue of space,” he said.

With Schmieg’s permission, Inside Higher Ed is publishing his column, which follows.

As a former male athlete, I know exactly what high school guys talk about when they think they are alone. It absolutely can be vulgar and objectifying to women. But here’s the thing — I have never in my life heard guys casually talk about preying on women in a sexual manner.

Trust me, I hated the way the guys talked on the field during practice or in the halls at school. It was downright dirty. Some would call it “locker room talk.” In other words, guys talking about the things they supposedly did with their girls. The conversation never turned to the things they were going to do to a girl.

While I do not condone premarital sexual activity, guys talking about the things they do with their girlfriends is part of today’s culture. On the other hand, when a guy talks about what they are going to do to a girl, that is when it is no longer locker room talk, but premeditated sexual assault.

Some examples of this kind of talk are “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” This is not a joke. Men do not casually say things like this. This is not locker room talk. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to excuse the terrible things they or others have said.

If a high school male was heard talking like this, I would hope appropriate action would be taken. This might involve counseling and some sort of punishment. Not because punishment would magically fix what he said, but to ensure he understands the severity of what he said. So he understands that sexual assault is not a joke. So he understands that women are to be cherished, not spoken of as property.

But when an adult in his late 50s says things like “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” that should be a major red flag. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Luke 6:45.

The things that come out of a man’s mouth when his guard is down is probably what is in his heart.

With that said, everyone deserves forgiveness for things that seem to be in the past. But in this instance, the words said do not seem to truly be in the past. He was never accosted for his atrocious words. And most importantly, it seems the words spoken are par for the course.

Donald Trump may have issued an apology for the words he said, but the fact that he can brush them off with a description of “locker room talk” tells me that he does not believe what he said is truly bad. It tells me that this man says things like this all the time, because it is casual talk to him.

Ladies, please hear me when I say the words spoken by Trump are not normal. That is not what decent men talk about. Not even in high school. You mean so much more than that, and you deserve so much better than that.

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Liberty University students issued a statement last week criticizing their president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for his endorsement of and campaigning for Donald Trump, even after the release of a video of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women (boasts he describes as "locker room talk"). Falwell responded by issuing his own statement, criticizing the students' views but saying that their ability to speak out was "a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas, unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out."

Despite the rhetoric, the university prevented Joel Schmieg, the sports editor of its student newspaper, The Liberty Champion, from running a column criticizing Trump.

Schmieg posted his column to his Facebook page and it has since started to spread. In introducing his column on Facebook, Schmieg wrote that he found Falwell's statements about free expression at Liberty to be "amusing and extremely hypocritical" in light of the university preventing his column from appearing.

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said via email that he was concerned about any such censorship -- and he added that such censorship simply isn't effective, either. "Of course, Liberty is a private university not subject to First Amendment constraints, but the best private universities voluntarily maintain a hands-off policy respectful of the integrity of independent journalism. Leaving aside the civic and educational benefits of fostering critical-thinking skills on a college campus, it's just self-defeating in the year 2016 to think you can suppress unwanted ideas by tearing articles out of paper newspapers. When you censor an article in the 21st century, you're just guaranteeing it a wider audience. I doubt many 20-year-old sports columnists are being read across the country, but by censoring Joel's column, the university has exponentially increased its impact. There's nothing more irresistible than journalism powerful authority figures don't want you to read."

A spokesman for Liberty, Len Stevens, reached at home Tuesday night, said he heard about the controversy when President Falwell shared with him texts the president exchanged with his son Trey (as Jerry Falwell III is known). The texts confirmed that the university prevented the column from being published, but did not indicate that President Falwell was involved directly, said Stevens. Stevens said that Schmieg's column was "redundant" with another piece and was blocked because of space constraints, as an "editorial decision." Stevens did not respond to questions about how blocking a column critical of Trump might not be consistent with President Falwell's statements about free expression.

Schmieg noted that, as sports editor, he has a regular column that does not compete with other pieces for space. As a result, Schmieg said that he had to write another column when his piece about Trump was pulled. "It's not an issue of space," he said.

With Schmieg's permission, Inside Higher Ed is publishing his column, which follows.

As a former male athlete, I know exactly what high school guys talk about when they think they are alone. It absolutely can be vulgar and objectifying to women. But here’s the thing -- I have never in my life heard guys casually talk about preying on women in a sexual manner.

Trust me, I hated the way the guys talked on the field during practice or in the halls at school. It was downright dirty. Some would call it “locker room talk.” In other words, guys talking about the things they supposedly did with their girls. The conversation never turned to the things they were going to do to a girl.

While I do not condone premarital sexual activity, guys talking about the things they do with their girlfriends is part of today’s culture. On the other hand, when a guy talks about what they are going to do to a girl, that is when it is no longer locker room talk, but premeditated sexual assault.

Some examples of this kind of talk are “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” This is not a joke. Men do not casually say things like this. This is not locker room talk. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to excuse the terrible things they or others have said.

If a high school male was heard talking like this, I would hope appropriate action would be taken. This might involve counseling and some sort of punishment. Not because punishment would magically fix what he said, but to ensure he understands the severity of what he said. So he understands that sexual assault is not a joke. So he understands that women are to be cherished, not spoken of as property.

But when an adult in his late 50s says things like “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” that should be a major red flag. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Luke 6:45.

The things that come out of a man’s mouth when his guard is down is probably what is in his heart.

With that said, everyone deserves forgiveness for things that seem to be in the past. But in this instance, the words said do not seem to truly be in the past. He was never accosted for his atrocious words. And most importantly, it seems the words spoken are par for the course.

Donald Trump may have issued an apology for the words he said, but the fact that he can brush them off with a description of “locker room talk” tells me that he does not believe what he said is truly bad. It tells me that this man says things like this all the time, because it is casual talk to him.

Ladies, please hear me when I say the words spoken by Trump are not normal. That is not what decent men talk about. Not even in high school. You mean so much more than that, and you deserve so much better than that.

Image Caption: 
Joel Schmieg
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New presidents or provosts: Aquinas Central Piedmont DeVry Everett Joliet Macaulay Piedmont Sheridan Trident UWF

Stephen Barrows, program coordinator of the economics department at Aquinas College, in Michigan, has been appointed executive vice president, provost and dean of faculty there.
Shantanu Bose, general manager of strategy and program development at D…

  • Stephen Barrows, program coordinator of the economics department at Aquinas College, in Michigan, has been appointed executive vice president, provost and dean of faculty there.
  • Shantanu Bose, general manager of strategy and program development at DeVry University, has been promoted to provost and vice president of academic excellence there.
  • Kandi Deitemeyer, president of College of the Albemarle, in North Carolina, has been chosen as president of Central Piedmont Community College, also in North Carolina.
  • Judy Mitchell, interim president of Joliet Junior College, in Illinois, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Janet Morrison, vice provost for students at York University, in Ontario, has been selected as provost and vice president, academic, at Sheridan College, also in Ontario.
  • Mary Corliss Pearl, interim dean of the City University of New York’s William E. Macaulay Honors College, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Paul Pitre, dean of Washington State University North Puget Sound at Everett, has been promoted to chancellor there.
  • Martha Saunders, provost and executive vice president at the University of West Florida, has been appointed president there.
  • Mihaela Tanasescu, acting vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at Ashford University, in California, has been chosen as provost, chief academic officer and accreditation liaison officer at Trident International University, also in California.
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Michigan’s use of welfare funds for private college tuition grants gets new scrutiny

With the state experiencing huge revenue shortfalls during the recession in the late 2000s, Michigan lawmakers got creative with their budget process.

Their maneuvering led the state to direct federal welfare funds to state college tuition grants — one of a handful of options to tackle a huge state budget shortfall. But nearly a decade later, that budget tactic has become a permanent feature of Michigan’s funding of higher education.

That means that at least a portion of federal money designated for safety net spending in the state is going to the children of middle- and upper-income families attending institutions in the state like Aquinas College, Albion College and Kalamazoo College — an arrangement that is getting new scrutiny. According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, more than $93 million of Michigan’s allocation of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program goes to tuition grants, and more than $40 million went to private institutions in fiscal year 2016.

Advocates for college access and private institutions that benefit from the tuition grants say what’s needed in Michigan isn’t removal of those welfare dollars but expanding support for higher education over all.

Other states have used funds from the federal TANF program for postsecondary education, experts say. But the funds are clearly targeted to low-income populations.

“I would say it is out of the ordinary, definitely, at the level of income Michigan has allowed the grants to creep up to,” said Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, which advocates for people not represented by interest groups in Washington.

One of the requirements for states receiving federal stimulus money was maintaining funding for higher education. Redirecting federal welfare funds to college tuition grants allowed the state to meet that requirement while continuing to cut back spending elsewhere in response to declining revenues.

Michigan has three tuition grant programs that are funded most or entirely with TANF money: the Tuition Incentive Program, the Michigan Tuition Grant and the Michigan Competitive Scholarship. The first program, which accounts for about half of TANF spending on tuition grants, is restricted to students whose families qualify for Medicaid.

The other programs are merit based but also take into account the cost of attending a particular college or university, which can be significantly higher at private institutions than public colleges.

The median family income is $49,000 for students receiving the Michigan Tuition Grant and $57,000 for those receiving the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, according to Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents private colleges in the state.

Depending on their circumstances, a student could qualify to receive awards from all three grant programs. No group has a clear breakdown of how many students from middle-class families receive welfare money.

About $31.6 million went to the Michigan Tuition Grant program, which provides a maximum award of $1,830 and is restricted to private institutions.

Another $3.6 million went to tuition grants for private institutions through the Michigan Competitive Scholarship program, an award of $636 per year. And $4.97 million was allocated to awards at private colleges through the Tuition Incentive Program, which pays out $500 per semester for a maximum of $2,000 over two years.

Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said to the extent that TANF funds are going to middle- and upper-income students, the state has a problem.

“We’re really in a sense robbing poor families in order to pay for financial aid for middle-class families,” he said.

Ruark said Michigan could be using money going to tuition grants for private colleges to improve the child care subsidy or increase the Family Independence Program, which is monthly cash assistance to poor families — all forms of safety net spending for the extremely poor meant to be served by welfare.

“We’re using the TANF allocation as a slush fund with which we fund things that we used to fund out of the general fund,” Ruark said.

The reason the state can allocate TANF funds that way? The 1996 federal welfare reform law said states could allocate the money to programs serving one of four purposes: help needy families, end dependence on government benefits through job preparation or work, encourage the formation of two-parent families, and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies. It’s that last purpose that Michigan cites in justifying the allocation of welfare money to the college tuition grants. And the state isn’t required to demonstrate that the program is actually doing anything to address or meet that goal.

Robert LeFevre, president of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said there is wide agreement that student financial aid programs aren’t a great fit for TANF money.

“The problem is we don’t have $100 million in general fund money to replace it,” he said.

And although the colleges spend $415 million on institutional aid annually, LeFevre said, $2,000 could be a make-or-break amount for students at any income level. He said the real problem Michigan must address is inadequate state support for higher education over all.

“Michigan has the lowest financial aid amount in the region,” he said. “In order to be a top 10 state, we need to double or triple our investment in student financial aid in general.”

A study released this month by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs showed that Michigan allocated a lower amount of total student aid than any other state in the Midwest. It doesn’t appear that a significant boost in expenditures is on the horizon, although Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, set up the 21st Century Education Commission to make recommendations for the state’s education system to meet economic demands.

Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said ideally the state would consolidate all scholarship programs so there isn’t a separate amount set aside for independent colleges. She said the state should also add a reasonable means test to make sure financial aid is really targeted to those who need it.

Absent such an overhaul, Johnson said the TANF money should remain in the college tuition programs.

“What Michigan needs is a more robust financial aid program that’s comprehensive,” she said. “We don’t think it would be wise to yank out $100 million now. It would be like yanking the rug out from students because the state isn’t in the position to immediately replace it.”

Student Aid and Loans
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Image Caption: 
Kalamazoo College
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With the state experiencing huge revenue shortfalls during the recession in the late 2000s, Michigan lawmakers got creative with their budget process.

Their maneuvering led the state to direct federal welfare funds to state college tuition grants -- one of a handful of options to tackle a huge state budget shortfall. But nearly a decade later, that budget tactic has become a permanent feature of Michigan’s funding of higher education.

That means that at least a portion of federal money designated for safety net spending in the state is going to the children of middle- and upper-income families attending institutions in the state like Aquinas College, Albion College and Kalamazoo College -- an arrangement that is getting new scrutiny. According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, more than $93 million of Michigan's allocation of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program goes to tuition grants, and more than $40 million went to private institutions in fiscal year 2016.

Advocates for college access and private institutions that benefit from the tuition grants say what’s needed in Michigan isn’t removal of those welfare dollars but expanding support for higher education over all.

Other states have used funds from the federal TANF program for postsecondary education, experts say. But the funds are clearly targeted to low-income populations.

“I would say it is out of the ordinary, definitely, at the level of income Michigan has allowed the grants to creep up to,” said Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, which advocates for people not represented by interest groups in Washington.

One of the requirements for states receiving federal stimulus money was maintaining funding for higher education. Redirecting federal welfare funds to college tuition grants allowed the state to meet that requirement while continuing to cut back spending elsewhere in response to declining revenues.

Michigan has three tuition grant programs that are funded most or entirely with TANF money: the Tuition Incentive Program, the Michigan Tuition Grant and the Michigan Competitive Scholarship. The first program, which accounts for about half of TANF spending on tuition grants, is restricted to students whose families qualify for Medicaid.

The other programs are merit based but also take into account the cost of attending a particular college or university, which can be significantly higher at private institutions than public colleges.

The median family income is $49,000 for students receiving the Michigan Tuition Grant and $57,000 for those receiving the Michigan Competitive Scholarship, according to Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents private colleges in the state.

Depending on their circumstances, a student could qualify to receive awards from all three grant programs. No group has a clear breakdown of how many students from middle-class families receive welfare money.

About $31.6 million went to the Michigan Tuition Grant program, which provides a maximum award of $1,830 and is restricted to private institutions.

Another $3.6 million went to tuition grants for private institutions through the Michigan Competitive Scholarship program, an award of $636 per year. And $4.97 million was allocated to awards at private colleges through the Tuition Incentive Program, which pays out $500 per semester for a maximum of $2,000 over two years.

Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said to the extent that TANF funds are going to middle- and upper-income students, the state has a problem.

“We’re really in a sense robbing poor families in order to pay for financial aid for middle-class families,” he said.

Ruark said Michigan could be using money going to tuition grants for private colleges to improve the child care subsidy or increase the Family Independence Program, which is monthly cash assistance to poor families -- all forms of safety net spending for the extremely poor meant to be served by welfare.

“We’re using the TANF allocation as a slush fund with which we fund things that we used to fund out of the general fund,” Ruark said.

The reason the state can allocate TANF funds that way? The 1996 federal welfare reform law said states could allocate the money to programs serving one of four purposes: help needy families, end dependence on government benefits through job preparation or work, encourage the formation of two-parent families, and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies. It’s that last purpose that Michigan cites in justifying the allocation of welfare money to the college tuition grants. And the state isn’t required to demonstrate that the program is actually doing anything to address or meet that goal.

Robert LeFevre, president of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said there is wide agreement that student financial aid programs aren’t a great fit for TANF money.

“The problem is we don’t have $100 million in general fund money to replace it,” he said.

And although the colleges spend $415 million on institutional aid annually, LeFevre said, $2,000 could be a make-or-break amount for students at any income level. He said the real problem Michigan must address is inadequate state support for higher education over all.

“Michigan has the lowest financial aid amount in the region,” he said. “In order to be a top 10 state, we need to double or triple our investment in student financial aid in general.”

A study released this month by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs showed that Michigan allocated a lower amount of total student aid than any other state in the Midwest. It doesn’t appear that a significant boost in expenditures is on the horizon, although Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, set up the 21st Century Education Commission to make recommendations for the state’s education system to meet economic demands.

Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said ideally the state would consolidate all scholarship programs so there isn’t a separate amount set aside for independent colleges. She said the state should also add a reasonable means test to make sure financial aid is really targeted to those who need it.

Absent such an overhaul, Johnson said the TANF money should remain in the college tuition programs.

“What Michigan needs is a more robust financial aid program that’s comprehensive,” she said. “We don’t think it would be wise to yank out $100 million now. It would be like yanking the rug out from students because the state isn’t in the position to immediately replace it.”

Student Aid and Loans
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Image Caption: 
Kalamazoo College
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Community colleges examining low and stagnant enrollments

It’s not a surprise to community college leaders across the country, but enrollments in the two-year sector are falling.

Typically, two-year college leaders could point to the economy and say that enrollments are down because people are working, but many of them are saying something different is happening.

“After the great recession, we’ve seen a restoration of new jobs, but manufacturing jobs remain off and aren’t restored to pre-recession levels,” said Dan Phelan, president of Jackson Community College in Michigan. “You would think if that’s the case, there’s got to be more people interested in taking classes and enrollment would be better, but that’s not the case.”

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that last year, community colleges enrolled about 5.9 million students, while in 2014 that number stood at about six million. In fact, the colleges have been on a steady decline since 2010, ending the increases many saw when the economic downturn hit in 2008.

Community College Enrollment
Fall 2015 5,906,419 -2.4%
Fall 2014 6,052,069 -4.4%
Fall 2013 6,329,631 -3.3%
Fall 2012 6,706,913 -3.1%
Fall 2011 6,918,915 -1.6%

Enrollment at Arizona’s Pima Community College, for instance, has dropped by 6 percent to about 22,400 students this fall since last year. Erie Community College, in New York, is down 6.5 percent to about 10,800 students compared to last year.

An Inside Higher Ed survey of admissions directors found that 88 percent of community colleges reported they were down in enrollment compared to two years ago.

“The recovery has very predictably been slow, and we’re still about 10 million jobs short of where we would’ve been with no recession,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, adding that this is where colleges would step in to produce graduates, but that isn’t happening.

The unemployment rate increased slightly from a low of 4.9 percent last month, however, the low rate is traditionally a sign that the economy has recovered and people are back work, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges.

The public two-year sector saw a 22 percent increase during the recession, and many of those students either moved into the workforce or transferred to universities and other colleges for further degrees, Baime said, adding that the low unemployment rate still doesn’t account for those people, particularly men who dropped out of the labor force entirely.

Carnevale points to the opportunity cost economic theory. Essentially people can find work, although it may not be the type of work that produces high or even median national earnings, but they consider going to college more costly or time-consuming than staying with the job they have.

“The whole system is just opaque,” Carnevale said. “Nobody can see clearly how to use the postsecondary system to get a job. It’s confusing, cumbersome and it’s expensive.”

A lot of potential students are being asked to take general education requirements for half the time it takes to achieve their degree and then receive the training that directly corresponds to the career they want, he said, adding that these people would rather just get the job training and thus turn away from college.

“Some are just opting out,” Phelan said. “Unfortunately many of the folks I’ve seen in our community have multiple jobs to make ends meet, and from a societal perspective we need a strong line between the value of an education and longtime, sustainable family wage.”

The four-year sector has been growing, although for-profit colleges have seen rapidly decreasing enrollments, as well, since 2010, but they’ve had different sorts of problems.

“The most interesting thing is with all the good press we got coming out of the recession, even what the president has done, for us to be losing enrollments when other sectors are not is really interesting,” Baime said.

Phelan said enrollments at his college have remained flat thanks to some initiatives the college put in place, but he points to some media messaging in the last few years that has devalued college. Five years ago the college’s enrollment was nearly 7,000 students, but it fell to about 5,400 in fall 2015.

“We have some mixed messages coming into contact with people, and that creates a sense of confusion and lack of clarity and that’s concerning,” he said.

He also lays some blame at the feet of political and business leaders who lament the student debt crisis and the idea that college is expensive.

“When we talk about the $1.3 trillion in student debt, all of higher education is lumped together in that, and it’s difficult to carve out a space in public discourse to say the average tuition for a community college student is $2,300,” Phelan said. “These stories of a person with a Ph.D. in Egyptian studies and $80,000 in [student] debt play well from the media’s point of view.”

But those stories don’t reflect the value of going to a community college, and they discourage potential students from seeking out education altogether, he said.

And despite some of the positive attention the Obama administration has given to the two-year sector in the last few years, Phelan said there is still a stigma attached to attending a community college.

That means colleges like Jackson have to find ways to lessen the pain of losing students.

The Michigan college increased tuition by 7.5 percent two years ago and raised it again by 8 percent this year, Phelan said, but they’re also hiring more student success navigators, which led to lowering the ratio of counselors from one for every 1,463 students to one for every 200.

Jackson is also one of the institutions offering the Second Chance Pell Grant program that allows prison inmates to receive federal money to pursue a college education.

“This is the new normal, and we have to think creatively and innovatively and introduce programs that speak to competencies and the local community,” Phelan said. “If we hadn’t implemented these things, the decay of our numbers would be worse than they are now.”

Some Colleges Are Doing Well

In Texas, two colleges have set enrollment records.

Del Mar College in Corpus Christi has doubled annual enrollment in continuing education courses, which include workforce training and certifications, since 2011. The college also surpassed the state’s higher education board’s estimated enrollment in credit courses by nearly 16 percent, to about 12,000 students.

Meanwhile, in the Houston area, Lone Star College set an all-time enrollment record of 85,661 credit students this fall, which was a 2 percent increase from last year.

Lone Star Chancellor Stephen Head points to a number of reasons for the increase, from the institution’s low cost compared to universities and its investment in workforce programs to improving the college’s look and increasing the number of counselors and faculty. Lone Star is hiring 700 additional faculty members within the next five years, he said.

“Our dual-credit program and the number of students we’re getting directly from high schools is growing,” Head said. “We get 20-25 percent of high school graduates in our service areas … we’re the second-largest enrollee of dual-credit students in the state.”

Unlike most community colleges, Lone Star students are considered more traditional age, with about 70 percent of the institution’s population under the age of 24.

Head said they’re conscious of the enrollment trends and have invested in marketing and advertisements, including on social media, that would appeal to younger students.

But one additional benefit to the college is that demographics show more people, especially young people, are moving into the Houston area, he said.

“We know we get 3.5 percent of the area population,” Head said. “The entire area here continues to grow because the cost of living in Houston is reasonable, there’s no state income tax, wages are good here and there’s warm weather most of the time.”

That growth has the college predicting that they’ll grow to between 105,000 and 110,000 students by 2020, he said.

Community Colleges
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Image Caption: 
Jackson Community College’s EMS training program
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It’s not a surprise to community college leaders across the country, but enrollments in the two-year sector are falling.

Typically, two-year college leaders could point to the economy and say that enrollments are down because people are working, but many of them are saying something different is happening.

“After the great recession, we’ve seen a restoration of new jobs, but manufacturing jobs remain off and aren’t restored to pre-recession levels,” said Dan Phelan, president of Jackson Community College in Michigan. “You would think if that’s the case, there’s got to be more people interested in taking classes and enrollment would be better, but that’s not the case.”

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that last year, community colleges enrolled about 5.9 million students, while in 2014 that number stood at about six million. In fact, the colleges have been on a steady decline since 2010, ending the increases many saw when the economic downturn hit in 2008.

Community College Enrollment
Fall 2015 5,906,419 -2.4%
Fall 2014 6,052,069 -4.4%
Fall 2013 6,329,631 -3.3%
Fall 2012 6,706,913 -3.1%
Fall 2011 6,918,915 -1.6%

Enrollment at Arizona's Pima Community College, for instance, has dropped by 6 percent to about 22,400 students this fall since last year. Erie Community College, in New York, is down 6.5 percent to about 10,800 students compared to last year.

An Inside Higher Ed survey of admissions directors found that 88 percent of community colleges reported they were down in enrollment compared to two years ago.

“The recovery has very predictably been slow, and we’re still about 10 million jobs short of where we would’ve been with no recession,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, adding that this is where colleges would step in to produce graduates, but that isn’t happening.

The unemployment rate increased slightly from a low of 4.9 percent last month, however, the low rate is traditionally a sign that the economy has recovered and people are back work, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges.

The public two-year sector saw a 22 percent increase during the recession, and many of those students either moved into the workforce or transferred to universities and other colleges for further degrees, Baime said, adding that the low unemployment rate still doesn’t account for those people, particularly men who dropped out of the labor force entirely.

Carnevale points to the opportunity cost economic theory. Essentially people can find work, although it may not be the type of work that produces high or even median national earnings, but they consider going to college more costly or time-consuming than staying with the job they have.

“The whole system is just opaque,” Carnevale said. “Nobody can see clearly how to use the postsecondary system to get a job. It’s confusing, cumbersome and it’s expensive.”

A lot of potential students are being asked to take general education requirements for half the time it takes to achieve their degree and then receive the training that directly corresponds to the career they want, he said, adding that these people would rather just get the job training and thus turn away from college.

"Some are just opting out," Phelan said. "Unfortunately many of the folks I've seen in our community have multiple jobs to make ends meet, and from a societal perspective we need a strong line between the value of an education and longtime, sustainable family wage."

The four-year sector has been growing, although for-profit colleges have seen rapidly decreasing enrollments, as well, since 2010, but they’ve had different sorts of problems.

“The most interesting thing is with all the good press we got coming out of the recession, even what the president has done, for us to be losing enrollments when other sectors are not is really interesting,” Baime said.

Phelan said enrollments at his college have remained flat thanks to some initiatives the college put in place, but he points to some media messaging in the last few years that has devalued college. Five years ago the college’s enrollment was nearly 7,000 students, but it fell to about 5,400 in fall 2015.

“We have some mixed messages coming into contact with people, and that creates a sense of confusion and lack of clarity and that’s concerning,” he said.

He also lays some blame at the feet of political and business leaders who lament the student debt crisis and the idea that college is expensive.

“When we talk about the $1.3 trillion in student debt, all of higher education is lumped together in that, and it’s difficult to carve out a space in public discourse to say the average tuition for a community college student is $2,300,” Phelan said. “These stories of a person with a Ph.D. in Egyptian studies and $80,000 in [student] debt play well from the media’s point of view.”

But those stories don’t reflect the value of going to a community college, and they discourage potential students from seeking out education altogether, he said.

And despite some of the positive attention the Obama administration has given to the two-year sector in the last few years, Phelan said there is still a stigma attached to attending a community college.

That means colleges like Jackson have to find ways to lessen the pain of losing students.

The Michigan college increased tuition by 7.5 percent two years ago and raised it again by 8 percent this year, Phelan said, but they're also hiring more student success navigators, which led to lowering the ratio of counselors from one for every 1,463 students to one for every 200.

Jackson is also one of the institutions offering the Second Chance Pell Grant program that allows prison inmates to receive federal money to pursue a college education.

"This is the new normal, and we have to think creatively and innovatively and introduce programs that speak to competencies and the local community," Phelan said. "If we hadn't implemented these things, the decay of our numbers would be worse than they are now."

Some Colleges Are Doing Well

In Texas, two colleges have set enrollment records.

Del Mar College in Corpus Christi has doubled annual enrollment in continuing education courses, which include workforce training and certifications, since 2011. The college also surpassed the state’s higher education board’s estimated enrollment in credit courses by nearly 16 percent, to about 12,000 students.

Meanwhile, in the Houston area, Lone Star College set an all-time enrollment record of 85,661 credit students this fall, which was a 2 percent increase from last year.

Lone Star Chancellor Stephen Head points to a number of reasons for the increase, from the institution's low cost compared to universities and its investment in workforce programs to improving the college’s look and increasing the number of counselors and faculty. Lone Star is hiring 700 additional faculty members within the next five years, he said.

“Our dual-credit program and the number of students we’re getting directly from high schools is growing,” Head said. “We get 20-25 percent of high school graduates in our service areas … we’re the second-largest enrollee of dual-credit students in the state.”

Unlike most community colleges, Lone Star students are considered more traditional age, with about 70 percent of the institution’s population under the age of 24.

Head said they’re conscious of the enrollment trends and have invested in marketing and advertisements, including on social media, that would appeal to younger students.

But one additional benefit to the college is that demographics show more people, especially young people, are moving into the Houston area, he said.

“We know we get 3.5 percent of the area population,” Head said. “The entire area here continues to grow because the cost of living in Houston is reasonable, there’s no state income tax, wages are good here and there’s warm weather most of the time.”

That growth has the college predicting that they’ll grow to between 105,000 and 110,000 students by 2020, he said.

Community Colleges
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Image Caption: 
Jackson Community College's EMS training program
Is this breaking news?: 

Writers group seeks middle ground on campus speech

PEN America, a group of literary writers and editors, is the latest professional association to weigh in on the ongoing debate over whether campus efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity are impairing free speech.

The debate thus far has engendered passionate arguments from both sides; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors, for example, have argued that universities’ interpretations of federal legislation against gender discrimination at times threaten academic freedom. Groups including Faculty Against Rape, meanwhile, have pushed back, saying such arguments pit faculty interests against students’, with negative implications for educational access.

Many academics have criticized the direction of student protests over campus diversity concerns, as well; others say such critiques represent a desire to maintain the racial status quo.

So where does PEN stand? Somewhere in the middle.

The organization offered up this week a nuanced, moderate 102-page report called “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Free Speech at U.S. Universities,” including guiding principles for academic free speech. It’s probably the most comprehensive index to date of recent campus free speech controversies and varied responses to them from academic groups and individuals. For that reason alone, it’s likely to become required reading for those engaged in campus speech policy discussions. But its guiding principles are noteworthy, too, in that they don’t put free speech and respectful, inclusive discourse at odds. They also call for more peer-based education efforts for students about the value of free speech.

“Liberal to left-leaning organizations that are active on campus should consider integrating free speech awareness into their agendas,” the report says. “Free speech organizations of all political persuasions should direct energy toward campuses, positioning free expression as a value that transcends politics and ideology. Institutions and funders that believe in this cause should invest in the next generation by underwriting grants for projects that build awareness and appreciation for free speech on campus.”

PEN ultimately concludes that there is not — as has been repeatedly suggested — a “‘crisis’ for free speech on campus.” It continues to say that unfortunately “respect for divergent viewpoints has not been a consistent hallmark of recent debates on matters of diversity and inclusion on campus. Though sometimes overblown or oversimplified, there have been many instances where free speech has been suppressed or chilled, a pattern that is at risk of escalating absent concerted action.”

Promoting Free Speech in the Classroom

The report calls for a classroom environment in which thoughtful speech is encouraged — rather than limited — in support of educational access.

“Faculty should be cognizant of the range of experiences and viewpoints that may be represented among students, including both those who are vocal and those who may sit silently,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s executive director, said in an email interview. “An open classroom environment can help avert unnecessary offenses and defuse potential conflicts. Professors should avoid the creation of a classroom environment in which students are — explicitly or implicitly — told that certain ideas or viewpoints are excluded from the discussion or could put students’ performance at risk. Faculty should also avoid relying on students from different identity groupings to ‘explain’ or speak for the views of those groups in the classroom.”

Faculty members “should not allow themselves to be intimidated into silence on controversial or sensitive subjects for fear of triggering formal or informal reprisals,” Nossel added. “They should band together to demand robust protections for academic and intellectual freedom, including for ideas with which they may disagree.”

PEN’s report includes several detailed case studies of free speech skirmishes, including that involving Laura Kipnis, the professor of media studies at Northwestern University who was investigated under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit gender discrimination in education, after she wrote an essay about changing attitudes about what constitutes harassment and assault. While Kipnis’s critics said she unfairly implicated a student involved in a Title IX case on her own campus, she gained widespread sympathy for being the target of an investigation for writing about a trend she found concerning.

Other studies are those on student protests at Yale University in response to a residential college official’s email suggesting that students can police their own Halloween costumes for cultural insensitivity, and the confrontations over Israeli-Palestinian activism (namely the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel) at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Largely refraining from judgment on those cases and others, PEN outlines various points of view, from those who are concerned about limitations of free speech and others who see such limitations as part of a great fight for equality. It says that social media can both spread and sensationalize conflicts, and that the following trends may be contributing to a free speech problem, or at least perceptions thereof: increased reliance on part-time faculty members, most of whom can be fired at will and lack academic freedom; economic pressures that lead universities to treat students like “consumers”; and fund-raising pressures that may influence administrative decision making in high-profile free speech cases.

Guiding Principles

While notable for its comprehensiveness, the heart of PEN’s report is its guiding principles for campus speech. Its says that dialogues, debates and efforts at greater inclusion “taking place on many campuses have the potential to help root out entrenched biases that have impeded the participation of members of marginalized groups,” and that, at times, “protests and forms of expression are treated as if they are incursions on free speech when they are manifestations of free speech.”

In reality, it says, free expression “should be recognized as a principle that will overwhelmingly serve not to exclude or marginalize minority voices, but rather to amplify them.”

It’s on university administrations to look hard at how physical barriers, historical traditions, inequalities, prejudices and power dynamics can inhibit campus and classroom “openness” and take steps to change them, the report says, and campus discourse “should be predicated on the presumption of respect for differences, including differences of view that cause disagreement.”

Respect entails an “obligation to understand what may cause offense and why, and to avoid such words and actions even if no offense is intended,” it says, and while violence and threats “are never appropriate, vociferous, adamant and even disrespectful argument and protest have their place.”

Moreover, it says, an environment where “too many offenses are considered impermissible or even punishable becomes sterile, constraining and inimical to creativity.”

Regarding speech and sexual harassment, PEN says that there is no contradiction between “advocating for more stringent measures to address sexual harassment and assault on campus and insisting on measures to protect free speech and academic freedom.” At the same time, it calls on the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights — whose 2011 Dear Colleague letter saying sexual assault and harassment should be part of how colleges and universities enforce Title IX led to unprecedented attention to the issue of campus rape — should clarify that its “hostile environment” standard for sexual harassment “cannot be determined solely on the basis of subjective perceptions that speech is offensive.”

PEN also says that universities should “reiterate the centrality of academic freedom when they address issues of harassment.”

Safe Spaces and More

Addressing campus speakers, a number of whom have been disinvited following student protests in recent years, PEN says that invitations should stand, once made. Threats of violence, even, shouldn’t lead to the withdrawal of invitations following controversy, it says, except in the most extreme cases. Protesters should have an opportunity to make themselves heard but shouldn’t shut down or prevent others from hearing the guest.

While calls to punish legally protected speech are themselves protected, they chill speech and are “usually inimical to an open environment for ideas,” the report says. Similarly, institutions should be “careful to avoid any form of discipline or punishment solely for legally protected speech.”

As for microaggressions — a favorite target of criticism for free speech purists — PEN seems sympathetic to the notion that small, usually racially tinged comments can have a major negative effect over time. It says that the increasing diversity of college campuses requires a “wider consciousness” of how different words are understood by different groups of listeners, not only by students, but by administrators, who can model appropriate language. It also says that calling out insensitive language must be assumed by all groups, not just those who have historically been marginalized.

Yet PEN rules out formal university policies regulating everyday speech or attempting to define insults, saying they’re “intrusive and risk prohibiting or even simply disfavoring permissible speech.”

Professors’ voluntary use of trigger warnings to alert students to potentially controversial classroom content — another thorn in the side of many free speech advocates — are permissible to PEN. But universities “cannot and should not position themselves institutionally to ensure that every possibly upsetting encounter with course material is averted.”

And what about safe spaces, the value of which have been much debated in the fallout from the letter from the University of Chicago’s dean of students? PEN says it’s a university’s obligation to foster an environment in which violent, harassing and reckless conduct doesn’t happen and where respect is encouraged. Yet it’s “neither possible nor desirable for the campus to offer protection from all ideas and speech that may cause a measure of damage.”

So safe spaces should be entered into voluntarily by students wishing to associate with a certain group, “not created or imposed to exclude unwelcome views.” And while student-led safe spaces — small gathering areas based on common themes and lifestyles — should be supported by administrations, PEN says, “the campus as a whole and segments thereof that are intended for all — such as dorms, residential colleges, classrooms and cafeterias — must be kept physically safe but intellectually and ideologically open.”

FIRE, advocates for free speech in higher education, said in a write-up of the report that PEN’s conclusion that free speech on campus “is not facing what it calls a pervasive ‘crisis’ may come as a surprise to many readers. However, we were glad to see the group acknowledge that free expression in higher education ‘is not free from threats, and must be vigilantly guarded if its continued strength is to be assured.’”

Nossel said that college and universities “need to find ways to advance inclusion without compromising bedrock principles of free speech,” but that it’s “not mission impossible.”

There are questions to be explored about why some students have been “turned off” by aspects of free speech, she said. But “opportunities for previously marginalized groups of students to partake more fully in campus life is a positive for speech, in that it stands to broaden the marketplace of ideas.”

Speech as a ‘Tool, Not a Threat’

The key to expanding inclusion and equality “is to foster rather than restrict speech,” Nossel said. “By systematically and expansively convening, empowering and listening, universities and faculty can help open up the campus to become a more egalitarian environment. At the same time, student and faculty activists for inclusion and diversity need to recognize that free speech protections are a tool, not a threat.”

Such protections “enable open discourse, allow silenced voices to be heard and shield dissenters from reprisals,” she added. “Our goal with this report is to help all parties — students, faculty, administrators, alums — better understand and even see some merit in alternative views in what has become a highly polarized discourse.”

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PEN America, a group of literary writers and editors, is the latest professional association to weigh in on the ongoing debate over whether campus efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity are impairing free speech.

The debate thus far has engendered passionate arguments from both sides; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors, for example, have argued that universities’ interpretations of federal legislation against gender discrimination at times threaten academic freedom. Groups including Faculty Against Rape, meanwhile, have pushed back, saying such arguments pit faculty interests against students’, with negative implications for educational access.

Many academics have criticized the direction of student protests over campus diversity concerns, as well; others say such critiques represent a desire to maintain the racial status quo.

So where does PEN stand? Somewhere in the middle.

The organization offered up this week a nuanced, moderate 102-page report called “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Free Speech at U.S. Universities,” including guiding principles for academic free speech. It’s probably the most comprehensive index to date of recent campus free speech controversies and varied responses to them from academic groups and individuals. For that reason alone, it’s likely to become required reading for those engaged in campus speech policy discussions. But its guiding principles are noteworthy, too, in that they don’t put free speech and respectful, inclusive discourse at odds. They also call for more peer-based education efforts for students about the value of free speech.

“Liberal to left-leaning organizations that are active on campus should consider integrating free speech awareness into their agendas,” the report says. “Free speech organizations of all political persuasions should direct energy toward campuses, positioning free expression as a value that transcends politics and ideology. Institutions and funders that believe in this cause should invest in the next generation by underwriting grants for projects that build awareness and appreciation for free speech on campus.”

PEN ultimately concludes that there is not -- as has been repeatedly suggested -- a “‘crisis’ for free speech on campus.” It continues to say that unfortunately “respect for divergent viewpoints has not been a consistent hallmark of recent debates on matters of diversity and inclusion on campus. Though sometimes overblown or oversimplified, there have been many instances where free speech has been suppressed or chilled, a pattern that is at risk of escalating absent concerted action.”

Promoting Free Speech in the Classroom

The report calls for a classroom environment in which thoughtful speech is encouraged -- rather than limited -- in support of educational access.

“Faculty should be cognizant of the range of experiences and viewpoints that may be represented among students, including both those who are vocal and those who may sit silently,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s executive director, said in an email interview. “An open classroom environment can help avert unnecessary offenses and defuse potential conflicts. Professors should avoid the creation of a classroom environment in which students are -- explicitly or implicitly -- told that certain ideas or viewpoints are excluded from the discussion or could put students’ performance at risk. Faculty should also avoid relying on students from different identity groupings to ‘explain’ or speak for the views of those groups in the classroom.”

Faculty members “should not allow themselves to be intimidated into silence on controversial or sensitive subjects for fear of triggering formal or informal reprisals,” Nossel added. “They should band together to demand robust protections for academic and intellectual freedom, including for ideas with which they may disagree.”

PEN’s report includes several detailed case studies of free speech skirmishes, including that involving Laura Kipnis, the professor of media studies at Northwestern University who was investigated under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit gender discrimination in education, after she wrote an essay about changing attitudes about what constitutes harassment and assault. While Kipnis’s critics said she unfairly implicated a student involved in a Title IX case on her own campus, she gained widespread sympathy for being the target of an investigation for writing about a trend she found concerning.

Other studies are those on student protests at Yale University in response to a residential college official's email suggesting that students can police their own Halloween costumes for cultural insensitivity, and the confrontations over Israeli-Palestinian activism (namely the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel) at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Largely refraining from judgment on those cases and others, PEN outlines various points of view, from those who are concerned about limitations of free speech and others who see such limitations as part of a great fight for equality. It says that social media can both spread and sensationalize conflicts, and that the following trends may be contributing to a free speech problem, or at least perceptions thereof: increased reliance on part-time faculty members, most of whom can be fired at will and lack academic freedom; economic pressures that lead universities to treat students like “consumers”; and fund-raising pressures that may influence administrative decision making in high-profile free speech cases.

Guiding Principles

While notable for its comprehensiveness, the heart of PEN’s report is its guiding principles for campus speech. Its says that dialogues, debates and efforts at greater inclusion “taking place on many campuses have the potential to help root out entrenched biases that have impeded the participation of members of marginalized groups,” and that, at times, “protests and forms of expression are treated as if they are incursions on free speech when they are manifestations of free speech.”

In reality, it says, free expression “should be recognized as a principle that will overwhelmingly serve not to exclude or marginalize minority voices, but rather to amplify them.”

It’s on university administrations to look hard at how physical barriers, historical traditions, inequalities, prejudices and power dynamics can inhibit campus and classroom “openness” and take steps to change them, the report says, and campus discourse “should be predicated on the presumption of respect for differences, including differences of view that cause disagreement.”

Respect entails an “obligation to understand what may cause offense and why, and to avoid such words and actions even if no offense is intended,” it says, and while violence and threats “are never appropriate, vociferous, adamant and even disrespectful argument and protest have their place.”

Moreover, it says, an environment where “too many offenses are considered impermissible or even punishable becomes sterile, constraining and inimical to creativity.”

Regarding speech and sexual harassment, PEN says that there is no contradiction between “advocating for more stringent measures to address sexual harassment and assault on campus and insisting on measures to protect free speech and academic freedom.” At the same time, it calls on the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights -- whose 2011 Dear Colleague letter saying sexual assault and harassment should be part of how colleges and universities enforce Title IX led to unprecedented attention to the issue of campus rape -- should clarify that its “hostile environment” standard for sexual harassment “cannot be determined solely on the basis of subjective perceptions that speech is offensive.”

PEN also says that universities should “reiterate the centrality of academic freedom when they address issues of harassment.”

Safe Spaces and More

Addressing campus speakers, a number of whom have been disinvited following student protests in recent years, PEN says that invitations should stand, once made. Threats of violence, even, shouldn’t lead to the withdrawal of invitations following controversy, it says, except in the most extreme cases. Protesters should have an opportunity to make themselves heard but shouldn’t shut down or prevent others from hearing the guest.

While calls to punish legally protected speech are themselves protected, they chill speech and are “usually inimical to an open environment for ideas,” the report says. Similarly, institutions should be “careful to avoid any form of discipline or punishment solely for legally protected speech.”

As for microaggressions -- a favorite target of criticism for free speech purists -- PEN seems sympathetic to the notion that small, usually racially tinged comments can have a major negative effect over time. It says that the increasing diversity of college campuses requires a “wider consciousness” of how different words are understood by different groups of listeners, not only by students, but by administrators, who can model appropriate language. It also says that calling out insensitive language must be assumed by all groups, not just those who have historically been marginalized.

Yet PEN rules out formal university policies regulating everyday speech or attempting to define insults, saying they’re “intrusive and risk prohibiting or even simply disfavoring permissible speech.”

Professors’ voluntary use of trigger warnings to alert students to potentially controversial classroom content -- another thorn in the side of many free speech advocates -- are permissible to PEN. But universities “cannot and should not position themselves institutionally to ensure that every possibly upsetting encounter with course material is averted.”

And what about safe spaces, the value of which have been much debated in the fallout from the letter from the University of Chicago's dean of students? PEN says it’s a university’s obligation to foster an environment in which violent, harassing and reckless conduct doesn’t happen and where respect is encouraged. Yet it’s “neither possible nor desirable for the campus to offer protection from all ideas and speech that may cause a measure of damage.”

So safe spaces should be entered into voluntarily by students wishing to associate with a certain group, “not created or imposed to exclude unwelcome views.” And while student-led safe spaces -- small gathering areas based on common themes and lifestyles -- should be supported by administrations, PEN says, “the campus as a whole and segments thereof that are intended for all -- such as dorms, residential colleges, classrooms and cafeterias -- must be kept physically safe but intellectually and ideologically open.”

FIRE, advocates for free speech in higher education, said in a write-up of the report that PEN’s conclusion that free speech on campus “is not facing what it calls a pervasive ‘crisis’ may come as a surprise to many readers. However, we were glad to see the group acknowledge that free expression in higher education ‘is not free from threats, and must be vigilantly guarded if its continued strength is to be assured.’”

Nossel said that college and universities “need to find ways to advance inclusion without compromising bedrock principles of free speech,” but that it’s “not mission impossible.”

There are questions to be explored about why some students have been “turned off” by aspects of free speech, she said. But “opportunities for previously marginalized groups of students to partake more fully in campus life is a positive for speech, in that it stands to broaden the marketplace of ideas.”

Speech as a 'Tool, Not a Threat'

The key to expanding inclusion and equality “is to foster rather than restrict speech,” Nossel said. “By systematically and expansively convening, empowering and listening, universities and faculty can help open up the campus to become a more egalitarian environment. At the same time, student and faculty activists for inclusion and diversity need to recognize that free speech protections are a tool, not a threat.”

Such protections “enable open discourse, allow silenced voices to be heard and shield dissenters from reprisals,” she added. “Our goal with this report is to help all parties -- students, faculty, administrators, alums -- better understand and even see some merit in alternative views in what has become a highly polarized discourse.”

Editorial Tags: 
Is this breaking news?: